Breaking Spirits Instead of Bread

Alexandra Doten

Homeless and hungry

Criminalizing food-sharing programs is an unfortunate growing trend in the United States. Fueled by the ideas that homelessness is a choice and feeding the homeless allows them to remain in their situation, 31 cities have taken action to restrict or ban the act of food-sharing. Limiting access to food, however, will not rid these cities’ streets of the homeless as they intend. Instead, the majority of the homeless population will likely stay in the city and remain homeless, but simply have less to survive on.

This proposed solution reveals a serious flaw in our country’s ideology. People are increasingly concerned with homelessness being a blemish in their backyards, rather than caring about other humans in need.

It is a frequent misconception that giving homeless people food will allow them to be content in their situation instead of encouraging them to aspire to more. Removing a person’s access to one of the bare necessities of life will not help them; it will most likely cause starvation and death before it successfully reduces the homeless population in a specific area. Unlike food, lack of affordable housing, job opportunities, and health care all prevent people from the ability to thrive. Largely, homelessness is not a choice. Taking away their ability to live will not miraculously make homeless people have homes or provide them with the means to do so.

While making food-sharing illegal is one proposed way reducing homelessness, limiting where the homeless can exist is another. Moving the homeless has become increasingly common, as they are seen as eyesores rather than people. Some cities have put spikes under bridges or created legislation to determine where the homeless can, or more often cannot, sleep. As more and more cities adopt these tactics, the homeless have fewer places to go. As laws against sleeping in public places and food-sharing programs gain popularity, ultimately it will essentially be illegal to just be homeless.

There are several ways in which cities are restricting food sharing. First, some laws require foods to meet specific safety standards, making a lot of home-cooked meals no longer legal. Second, some demand that food sharing now be restricted to particular public places. This severely limits options as these laws often also narrow the parameters of how closely you can serve food next to residential areas and other buildings. Third, many laws necessitate a permit to serve food, often charging a pricey fine or requiring an elaborate application process. Finally, many businesses and homeowners have embraced the “Not In My Backyard” (NIMBY) politics.

NIMBY ideals are spreading fast and allow the community to have more pull in regards to food sharing than local governments do. These communities see homelessness as a pest in their cities that could potentially deter tourism and alter reputations. The goal of NIMBY politics is to move homeless shelters and food sharing out of their cities in hopes of drawing homeless people out with them. Ultimately this means the programs made to assist the homeless will continue to be relocated further and further away until they have nowhere to go and are nowhere near those they are meant to help.

Currently, 66% of food pantries have had to turn away hungry people due to lack of resources. Eliminating these already limited free meals will leave the homeless with no other options for food. With no alternatives, it’s probable that many of these people may resort to theft and other crimes to avoid death.

Monetarily, solving homelessness would cost less than the amount of money spent on Christmas decorations. In fact, a study done in Charlotte, North Carolina shows that creating residences for the homeless saves immensely in tax dollars, therefore it is cheaper to solve homelessness than not to.

Proponents of laws against food sharing are right about one thing— homelessness is a major problem in the United States. Unfortunately, they are going about solving it in the wrong way. Depriving the homeless of food is both cruel and inhumane. Cities should find alternative and more effective methods to reduce homelessness that do not include robbing people of the basic necessities to live.


[Photo credit: Ed Yourdon]